Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is one of his most popular works. Written in Wilde’s characteristically dazzling manner, full of stinging epigrams and shrewd observations, the tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused something of a scandal when it first appeared in 1890. Wilde was attacked for his decadence and corrupting influence, and a few years later the book and the aesthetic dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons. Of the book’s value as autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be–in other ages, perhaps.”
An impressionable young Dorian Gray meets Lord Henry whose views on life, morals, values, pleasure, love influence Gray so much that he exclaims an oath that he be able to experience every pleasure without marring his physical beauty. His ‘wish’ becomes reality when he notices that his portrait by Basil Hallward (his masterpiece) changes as Dorian Gray’s experiences take a toll on his soul.
Oscar Wilde being one of my favorite authors, I made the pledge to re-read some of his work that I had not read in some time this summer. Re-reading this after many years – not since high school – I realize now how much I missed in the first reading. The idea of being selfish and experiencing every pleasure without thought to consequence and effect on others resonates in a modern world where the individual’s desires come first, which explains why the novel is still relevant today. I enjoyed the novel much more this time around, especially the complex characters who are not easily labeled as good or bad. This is definitely a must read and I highly recommend it.